“There’s something that people like to say: ‘It’s so much better now,’” observed artist Micol Hebron on Thursday night. She was sitting in the Art + Technology lab in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s basement, talking about gender equality in the arts with New York-based, Swiss artist Annina Rust. “That’s not true,” Hebron continued, pointing out that the numbers haven’t actually changed that much since the 1970s.
Art by women makes 12 cents to the dollar art by men makes at auction. Blue chip galleries represent far fewer women than men — L.A.’s own Blum & Poe has 33 male artist and 4 female artists, and Gagosian has 100 male artists and 17 women on its roster. Hebron has been counting. So has Rust, who invited Hebron to talk with her at LACMA and has spent the past year honing her own kind of feminist data project through a grant from LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab, which gives artists access to tech experts and technological resources. Rust has been making pie charts documenting the gender inequality in art and tech, then placing those pie charts on actual pies.
She built a robot, a comically unwieldy one, out of a computer, specialized software, a vacuum cleaner, a conveyer belt and a label-printing machine. It works like this: A user takes a gingerbread pie with white icing and cute candy flowers on it from a pile, places it on a white table just above a conveyer belt, goes to a desktop computer, clicks to make a pie and then selects a pie chart from the pool of available options. She could, for instance, choose the workforce gender statistics for Twitter or for Google (both companies are 70 percent male, 30 percent women) or the number of women represented in the ZKM Center for Art and Media’s permanent collection (nine, in contrast to the thirty-two men).
Once she has clicked on her pie chart, she can click to make the pie. The robot’s vacuum arm will suck up the appropriate circular paper chart, then move toward the pie that will be, by this point, inching down a conveyer belt and getting its frosting heated by a heat gun. The arm will then descend up the pie and release the chart on the now-heated frosting. As the pie slides off the conveyer belt, a label machine prints an address, so that the pie can be boxed and sent to the organization in question, such as Twitter's headquarters. The boxes have notes in them saying that the “pies are only for informational purposes.” Technically, they are edible, but the museum doesn’t want to be liable.
The proposal Rust sent in when she initially applied for the Art + Technology grant was partly inspired by Art + Technology's history. The initial Art + Tech program at LACMA, which launched in 1967, had been an ambitious venture in which individual artists were installed at tech-involved companies — Robert Irwin and James Turrell were at Garrett Corporation; Dan Flavin tried to work with General Electric. Portraits of 64 men appeared on the catalogue's cover. Three-hundered-sixty-nine proposals appeared inside the catalogue, and only one was by a woman, the late L.A. artist Channa Horowitz, though LACMA's chief curator Maurice Tuchman had not deemed Horowitz proposal worthy of forwarding to any corporation. This year, the museum's much smaller revised Art + Technology program has two women to four male grantees — better odds, but still unbalanced.
“You’re cooking sweet things for people and delivering a bitter pill,” Hebron said to Rust Thursday. “What do you think about using this domestic strategy?”
“I don’t necessarily see myself as in an apron behind a stove,” said Rust. “These pies were made by LACMA catering.” But she notes that an advisor in the Art + Technology program, Ken Goldberg, who invented the first robot with a web interface back in 1994, challenged her to make her robot more sophisticated. She bristled at this; she wanted a mix of low-tech and high.
“There’s a certain [attitude] in tech, and probably also in art: ‘If you don’t do it this way, you’re not a real technologist,” said Rust. “I am not a real technologist.”
The labels that Rust uses, made of paper and often cut-out irregularly, appear more homemade and low tech then even the pies, which seem to have been made en masse. They are not edible, though Rust has experimented with a food coloring marker, and are entirely straightforward. Yellow represents women, orange is men, and the stats are printed in black: two women speakers to 24 men at the 2014 Boston Data Festival; six women to 31 men have won the Ars Electronica Festival Golden Nica prize in Interactive Art; at 2012 Zero1 tech and art biennial, 64 women participated to 101 men.
“Complaint art” was something Rust and Hebron spoke about Thursday night — is that what they're doing by making a whole project of pointing out the numbers? Hebron recalled peers asking her, “Aren’t you worried that gallerists are going to be pissed off at you?” But she didn't create the inequity. “The data is there,” she said, reflecting on the strange idea that saying what is might be somehow uncouth. “It has echoes of the language of abuse to me. It’s like being in an abusive relationship and the abuser is shushing me.”
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